Last year, we at Suite Seven worked on a large content project that required us to manage a team of freelance writers to research very technical information and then turn that into consumer-friendly educational articles.
The process, and its outcome, reinforced a truth we already knew, yet brought it home in a very painful way: there’s a lot of inaccurate and frankly crappy content out there on the Web.
A few of our freelance writers relied on sources such as About.com and Wikipedia — sites that rise to the top of search engines and therefore appeared (to our unwitting freelancers) to be credible sources of information for the topic at hand. Others went to sources that seemed to have better credentials, such as industry websites, yet even some of that content provided slanted viewpoints or out-of-date information. Worse, many of the sites repeated the same facts over and over, “borrowing” from each other so that factual errors appeared repeatedly and seemed to be more reliable.
Earning consumers’ trust
Once we’ve been burned by unreliable content (and most of us have), it’s difficult to trust again. Online content is a free-for-all, and the vast majority of it is not worth our time. For every well-researched and substantive piece of content online, there are 20 more pieces like it that are self-promotional, heavily biased, unverifiable or speculative.
As citizens of the Web, we have grown weary and skeptical of what’s out there. Perhaps that’s why it’s no surprise 85% of consumers now seek out trusted expert content (such as third-party reviews) before considering a purchase. In fact, content written by objective third parties (credible journalists, for example) is the only type to boost brand performance across the purchase cycle, and is 88% more effective than branded content in lifting brand familiarity.
So what’s a brand to do? Companies are using content marketing to add their voices to the mix as consumers research purchase options, solve problems and pursue their interests. How do content marketers compete with product review publications like CNET, for example, as a similarly credible source of information?
To be credible, you need to share your expertise and make users trust you. Perhaps that sounds oversimplified, but the ability to win trust and prove your unique knowledge about a topic elevates your content’s credibility — making consumers less likely to dismiss or discount the information you share with them. Building credibility requires you to:
Be as objective and unbiased as possible.
This isn’t always easy for content marketers. Branded content often puts a thin veneer onto the same old promotional content, packaging it as an article but touting the same blatant agenda to sell, sell, sell. Content marketers achieve credibility when they treat their content more as journalism than as marketing. The same standards apply: objectivity, representing multiple points of view, telling an interesting story. Readers shouldn’t walk away feeling like they just ducked out of a slimy sales pitch.
Make content useful.
Packaging what you’re creating in a way that your target audience can use, easily consume and apply to their lives makes your content more likely to win their hearts. A study from Content Science found that users deemed a website “not credible” for reasons such as the site not being useful, relatable or easy to use.
Make it easy to verify facts.
Even more cited factors for non-credibility in the Content Science study was that the source of a site’s content was murky or untrusted.
(Think about what happens every time you stumble upon one of those websites by a doctor evangelizing the latest amazing cleanse. These sites throw medical facts and figures at readers left and right — but don’t we automatically assume they’re just a ploy to get us to shell out another $300 for the ultimate weight-loss solution?)
The easiest way to clear this up is to be forthright about citing where your information comes from. Readers don’t expect you to innately know everything about a topic — relying on research and citing your sources shows your transparency and willingness to curate the best thinking to support your position.
When you create content that educations and informs, you make a promise: to publish regularly, support your audience and expand knowledge on a topic. Keeping your promise means sticking to a schedule and not letting your efforts drop off, as well as finding your focus and point of view and remaining faithful to it over time.
If you’re a brand producing content, you’re under even more pressure to be as credible as possible — to prove that the information you’re providing is second-to-none. Following these guidelines for credibility will help you create content that makes consumers believe in your expertise, building trust and loyalty to your brand.